Expected Council Action
In May the Council is expected to discuss the future of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG). The Council requested recommendations from the Secretary-General in February in resolution 1866 (which extended UNOMIG’s mandate until 15 June). His report is expected to outline options for the basis of a future UN mission.
Although UNOMIG’s mission ends in mid-June, because of the complexity of the issue, the Council is expected to follow-up the Secretary-General’s report in May.
Key Recent Developments
In February the Council agreed on a second short technical rollover for UNOMIG. Following a similar format to the October resolution, and reflecting the serious underlying issues, the resolution did not mention the name of the mission. Resolution 1866 did call for the 1994 Moscow Agreement on a ceasefire and separation of forces “to be respected pending consultations and agreement on a revised security regime”. It also took note of the Secretary-General’s earlier recommendations which included:
strict observation of the ceasefire and refrain from hostile actions;
a zone, equivalent in territorial expanse to the security zone in the Moscow Agreement, on both sides of the ceasefire where armed forces and equipment would not be allowed, as well as a restricted weapons zone which would not allow heavy military equipment;
a ban on military aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles in the zones;
advance notice of changes in the deployment of armed personnel and vehicles; and
designation of authorised liaison personnel to provide information.
The region has become increasingly tense in recent weeks. NATO military exercises are scheduled from 6 May to 1 June in Georgia, twelve miles east of Tbilisi. On 16 April Russia demanded that NATO call off the exercises saying they would not help restore stability in the Caucasus. On 22 April NATO responded by inviting Russia to send observers to the military manoeuvres.
On 21 April Russia pulled out of a high-level NATO meeting scheduled for 7 May, apparently in reaction to the planned NATO exercises.
In Georgia, protests began on 9 April calling for Georgian President Mikhail Saakshvili to resign. Since February 2008 there has been growing unhappiness over Saakshvili’s increasingly autocratic governing style. The opposition also accuses him of mishandling the conflict with Russia last year.
Reports indicate that Russia reinforced its military presence in the region in early April. Georgia claimed that Russia has 5,000 troops stationed in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It also claimed that Russia has moved 150 armoured vehicles to Akhalgori in South Ossetia and 35 to Gali in South Abkhazia since the beginning of April. Russia confirmed that it sent reinforcements to the boundary lines because of its concerns that the Georgian government may provoke clashes to distract from the opposition protests.
On 22 April two military monitoring officers for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were briefly detained by South Ossetian forces near the administrative boundary between Georgia and South Ossetia. The OSCE said that their detention was unacceptable, and Georgia condemned the detention as an act of provocation. South Ossetia claimed that the observers had been detained because they had crossed into South Ossetian territory. A similar incident took place in February when two observers were also detained for allegedly straying into South Ossetia.
The fifth round of the Geneva talks on Georgia will take place 18-19 May. They will be co-chaired by the UN, OSCE and the EU. Parties to the talks include Georgia, Russia, the US, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. (The 12 August ceasefire agreement called for internationally mediated talks focusing on security and stability and repatriation of refugees.) The previous round of talks was held on 17-18 February and participants agreed on a joint monitoring mechanism to prevent and resolve security incidents around South Ossetia. The first meeting of this monitoring mechanism involving Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia with the EU and OSCE monitors took place on 23 April.
An option is to set up a group of senior experts on Georgia from the Council to explore the ideas contained in the Secretary-General’s upcoming report and to work closely with the Secretariat in this regard.
Another option is a possible Council mission to Georgia and Abkhazia to assess the situation ahead of deciding UNOMIG’s future.
Also, an option may be to decide to provide preliminary feedback to the Secretary-General by the end of May so that he can provide a further short paper with refined recommendations.
Updated briefings from the Secretariat on developments, especially on increased build-up on the ceasefire line, are also a possibility.
But the fundamental issue is finding agreement on a future role for the UN that stabilises the security situation but also satisfies all parties. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of UNOMIG, Johan Verbeke, has discussed possible security framework options with the parties, but there has been no agreement so far. The UN believes that a viable security framework is an essential foundation for any ongoing mission and is expected to present options in its May report.
An issue is the limited time the Council will have to reach agreement. It will probably have less than three weeks to come to a decision before the expiry of the UNOMIG mandate.
It is unclear to what extent the NATO exercises or the build-up of Russian forces will complicate the discussions. There has been some difficulty of independently verifying figures of the build-up of forces, particularly in South Ossetia, as EU monitors and journalists are not allowed into the area.
Compliance with the 2008 EU brokered ceasefire may also become a problem. Some reports indicate that Russia has troops 25 miles away from the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Russia claims that the ceasefire has been superseded by separate agreements signed with South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Another issue is future monitoring. The Abkhaz leaders have indicated that they do not want the EU observers in Abkhazia but want them deployed in Georgia arguing that the EU has not recognised Abkhazia as an independent state.
On 12 February the OSCE extended the mandate for twenty unarmed military observers in the areas of Georgia adjacent to South Ossetia until 30 June. The mandate is separate from the previous OSCE mission which was technically closed on 31 December. Negotiations to revive the mission appear to have stalled.
A continuing issue is the stability of the Saakshvili government and the effect of continuing demonstrations on political stability.
Most Council members prefer to wait for the Secretary-General’s recommendations before shaping their positions on the elements of a future UN presence in the region. Most of them have not been privy to the ongoing discussions between the parties and Verbeke on a security regime.
The Western countries in the Group of Friends (Germany, the UK, the US, and France) keep a close eye on the discussions between the UN and the key parties on the framework for a new security regime.
The positions of Russia and the US will be central. While there have been signs that both the US and Russia might be moving towards a more flexible approach to the issue, it appears that neither is willing to show its cards quickly. For example, it is unclear if Russia would be willing to soften its position on the need for Georgia to accept an agreement on the non-use of force and an embargo on supplies of weapons to Georgia, or if the US might soften its position on territorial integrity.
Turkey, a new Council member and a neighbouring country to Georgia, is looking to be more closely involved in this issue.
Most elected members are aware that this is one of the most significant issues on the Council’s agenda at the moment and are keen to have as much information as possible. (The practice of having a draft resolution first go through the Group of Friends often results in other Council members not being included in the negotiations at an early stage.)
Selected Security Council Resolutions
Selected Secretary-General’s Report
Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission
Size and Composition
August 1993 to present
1 July 2008-30 June 2009: $36.08 million (gross)